The Stars of the South
This special interest astronomy tour offers a comprehensive introduction to astronomy in South Africa.
Our itinerary seeks to go beyond a mere introduction to the stars of the southern hemisphere and offers special access to Cape Town’s historic observatory hosted by the professional astronomers that conduct research there, as well as private tours at the state of the art modern observatory near Sutherland, home to the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere. The tour is annotated with informative and entertaining lectures as well as star gazing through powerful telescopes.
Day 1 Cape Town
On arrival into Cape Town board a private coach for a driven, scenic, city orientation tour en route to your hotel. Check in and lunch is followed by an afternoon visit to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for a guided walk around these famous and picturesque gardens. In the early evening gather for pre-dinner drinks, a welcome address and an introductory lecture on the history of South Africa followed by dinner at the hotel.
Day 2 Cape Town
Ascend Table Mountain for a guided walk and orientation followed by a brief driven and walking tour of Cape Town’s city centre. After lunch visit to historic Groot Constantia estate, possibly the finest surviving example of Cape Dutch architecture and one of South Africa’s foremost historical monuments dating back to 1685. Optional tasting of the estates wines. Evening outing to the Planetarium for a private introduction to the stars of the southern hemisphere and a lecture on traditional African astronomy, possibly including astronomy from the Timbuktu manuscripts, some of which date back to the 12th Century. Dinner locally. A private lecture on traditional African astronomy, possibly including a section on the Timbuktu archives
Day 3 Cape Town
Board the coach for the scenic drive to Cape Point Nature Reserve via the spectacular Chapman’s Peak drive. See Cape Point from the old lighthouse, stand at the Cape of Good Hope and enjoy a guided walk through the indigenous flora surrounded by spectacular scenery. After lunch at Cape Point enjoy a brief stop at Boulders Beach to view the Jackass penguin colony and visit Simon’s Town - the historical winter anchorage for the 18th century seafarers and their ships.
Day 4 Cape Town
After a morning at leisure to explore some of the many and varied attractions of the Cape enjoy a private afternoon visit to the historic headquarters of the SAAO (South African Astronomical Observatory). Founded in 1820 with the main aim of keeping accurate time, Cape Town’s observatory was the first to calculate the distance to a star and was also a pioneer in the use of photography in astronomy. Visit the grounds of the observatory hosted by astronomers active in the observatory. Highlights include: the library, the various domes housing historic telescopes including a solar telescope, the dome where astronomic photography was first used, the large McClean refractor telescope dated 1897, the museum housing various interesting, historic, astronomy related instruments and the labs and technical areas where instrument development is taking place today. Enjoy a talk by a local astronomer on the history of the observatory and modern astronomy in South Africa followed by drinks and time to interact with your host. After dinner locally, if the night sky is clear, return to the observatory for private use of the McClean telescope, as well as use of some amateur telescopes for general star viewing.
Day 5 Cape Town
A full day exploring the Cape Winelands. Enjoy a tour of South Africa’s second oldest town, Stellenbosch, know for its beautifully restored Cape Dutch and Victorian buildings, oak lined streets and prestigious university. It is also the heart of the Cape Winelands. Visit Rustenberg wine estate for a private introduction to the wine making process and a cellar tour with the cellar master, followed by a tasting of their award winning wines. Drive through spectacular mountain scenery to the picturesque and charming village of Franschhoek, first settled in 1688 by French Huguenot refugees. French traditions of good food and wine continue to this day. After lunch enjoy time to explore the many boutiques and galleries in the village.
Day 6 Sutherland
Check out of the hotel and board the coach for the four hour drive to remote Sutherland where, free from light pollution and with an abundance of clear night skies, the main telescopes used for research are located at the SAAO observing station. Stop en route at the charming village of Matjiesfontein, once an important watering point in the arid Karoo during the age of steam trains, for some time to stretch legs and explore the village. Lunch in the Lord Milner Hotel. Arrive in mid afternoon and check into the Sutherland Hotel. Late afternoon visit to the observatory for an introductory lecture on the Sutherland observatory and SALT (Southern African Large Telescope), the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, and its education and outreach program and the impact of the observatory on the local community. Dinner locally is followed by late evening and night use of the two dedicated visitor telescopes, 16" Meade and 14" Celestron, with a local astronomer in attendance.
Day 7 Sutherland
Morning and lunch at leisure. An afternoon technical tour of SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) guided by a local astronomer or technician. With a hexagonal mirror array 11 meters across this telescope is able to record distant stars, galaxies and quasars a billion times too faint to be seen with the unaided eye - as faint as a candle flame at the distance of the moon. The technical tour is followed by a lecture on modern astronomy possibly including an introduction to some of the projects taking place in Sutherland at the time of the visit. Dinner locally is again followed by late evening and night use of the two dedicated visitor telescopes with a local astronomer in attendance.
Day 8 Flight Home
Return to Cape Town, stopping for lunch en route. Time for some last minute shopping at the V&A Waterfront and drop off at Cape Town airport in time for your flight home.
Note: This tour itinerary is a sample only and can be adapted to suit the needs of your particular group.